2019 UFC Breakout Candidates by E. Spencer Kyte Contributor http://www.sportingnews.com/us/mma/news/2019-ufc-breakout-candidates/1axar2nonz1dm1lurze01md5nh Here's the list, and some excerpts: Strawweight: Maycee Barber Barber wants to break Jon Jones’s record for being the youngest fighter to win UFC gold and the organization will likely give her every opportunity to accomplish that task... a couple impressive outings against established strawweights would put her on the cusp of contention and her story and skills would make her a prime candidate for becoming someone the promotion pushes into the spotlight this year and beyond. Flyweight: Liz Carmouche ...the San Diego-based contender already holds a win over Shevchenko and a stoppage win at that. A couple more victories paired with the “I beat her once, I’ll beat her again” potential makes “The Girl-rilla” someone who could emerge from the pack in the flyweight division. Flyweight: Kai Kara-France The 25-year-old New Zealander posted a massive strike differential against Elias Garcia en route to winning a lopsided unanimous decision and while the future of the division is in doubt, Kara-France is one to watch whether he’s competing at ’25 or ’35 in the coming year. Bantamweight: Aspen Ladd While she only made it to the Octagon once last year, the unbeaten 23-year-old sure made the most of her one appearance by defeating the ever-loving hell out of former Invicta FC champ Tonya Evinger, who went three rounds with Cris Cyborg on relatively short notice the year before. ...she’s scheduled to face former champ Holly Holm as part of the massive UFC 235 fight card at T-Mobile Arena in March and a victory would put her on the very short list of potential title contenders in the bantamweight division. Regardless of the outcome, it’s a fight that should elevate the MMA Gold product’s overall name recognition and if she wins, look out. Bantamweight: Petr Yan Hardcore fans have been all-in on Yan for some time and committed UFC followers likely became convinced of his upside a couple weeks back when he destroyed Douglas Silva de Andrade at UFC 232. But 2019 could be the year where everyone else catches on and starts understanding that Yan is one of the biggest threats in the well-stocked bantamweight ranks. Featherweight: Megan Anderson ...she’s ...an intriguing talent who has been saddled with lofty expectations and had limited opportunities to validate the hype that has surrounded her for the last couple years. Her bout with Cat Zingano at UFC 232 was supposed to be such an opportunity, but that went sideways in a hurry and now Anderson is basically no further ahead. With a couple good matchups — perhaps starting with that rematch she offered Zingano in the cage after their first meeting — and a pair of strong performances, the hardcore darling could emerge as someone casual fans are clamoring to see more of in 2019 as well. Featherweight: Kron Gracie The son of the legendary Rickson Gracie... and you can be sure that his lineage and family name will be a part of the promotional build-up to the show. And if Gracie can go out and impress against Alex Caceres, there is no way that an unbeaten Gracie in the UFC isn’t going to get a major push — both from the promotion and the media — going forward. Featherweight is one of the deepest, most talented divisions in the UFC and there are no easy outs, but if Gracie can put together two or three wins, his family name will help expedite his rise up the rankings and thrust him into the spotlight. Lightweight: Islam Makhachev I’m not a big fan of labeling people “The Next (Insert Superstar Name Here)” because it’s often unfair, undeserved or just plain unnecessary… however, calling Makhachev “The Next Khabib Nurmagomedov” makes a lot of sense, considering the lightweight champion himself would likely endorse the comparison. Welterweight: Ben Askren Askren could realistically put himself in the title picture with two wins and anyone who goes from promotional newcomer to potential title challenger in a single calendar year deserves recognition as a potential breakout candidate … even if they have been around for nearly a decade. Middleweight: Tom Breese Regardless of whom he faces, Breese is someone to watch in the division because he’s a proven finisher with tremendous size for the division and with middleweight currently in a state of flux, it’s not inconceivable that someone would be able to follow a similar path as Adesanya and go from unranked to just outside the Top 5 with a quality 12-month stretch. Given his age, previous results and potential, Breese is a strong choice to be that guy in 2019. Light Heavyweight: Luke Rockhold Few people would likely say “Rockhold is a guy to watch in 2019,” but Rockhold is a guy to watch in 2019 and a legit breakthrough candidate, even if it’s a second breakthrough. No one will ever argue that the former middleweight champ isn’t ultra-talented — the knocks against him have always been health-related, with a side of “he’s too cocky” — so, if he can put the health issues behind him and make two or three starts at 205 this year, why couldn’t Rockhold do what Smith or Thiago Santos did last year? Heavyweight: Cain Velasquez Given that it has been more than two years since Velasquez last set foot in the Octagon and that he has only fought twice in the last five years, I don’t want to hear any complaints about suggesting Velasquez could be a breakout fighter in 2019. As much as it’s fun to joke about “Sea Level Cain” and whatever else, the fact is that most people believed Velasquez was the best heavyweight on the planet and on his way to being the best heavyweight of all time before this last extended absence. A big effort against Ngannou would put him right back into the title conversation and depending on how things shake out in the division, it’s not unrealistic to believe Velasquez could fight for gold before the year is out. If going from unranked to “in the mix” in one year merits breakthrough consideration, returning after being left behind and largely written off certainly has to as well.